Braille Monitor               January 2024

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The Nation’s Blind Podcast and the Myth of the Model Federationist

by Blaine Deutscher

From the Editor: The Nation’s Blind Podcast is one way that we communicate with blind and sighted people to spread our message about what it means to be blind, and equally important, what it does not mean. Here is a note expressing appreciation for the messages in our podcast, one which offers us the opportunity to better explain how we do some of the things this gentleman says that he cannot do. In this note he gives us an opportunity to explain how some of the limitations he thinks are a part of blindness need not be. With slight editing, here is what Blaine says:

It is evening as I write this. I just wanted to say what a wonderful podcast you two [Melissa Riccobono and Anil Lewis] are running (with appearances from Chris). I found the podcast before I knew it was one of the blind parent podcasts. You did an episode breaking down the myths about the Federation and what you stand for. I really appreciate that because I believe everything mentioned.

I live in Canada and am a member of the Canadian Federation of the Blind. I was first introduced to the Federation when attending guide dog school. As we know, representation from most guide dog schools attend both conventions. Someone mentioned attending the NFB Convention in 2007, and I wanted to know about it. The members I met were "living the lives they want." As we know, low expectations of blind people are what create barriers for us. There are some here in Canada who live the life they want, but I see more people who are a part of the Federation in the states truly living the life they want—lighting fireworks on the 4th of July, taking whatever methods of transportation they desire to get to their destination, etc. I realize that those people who are living this way also attended one of the three training centers you have. I used to be one of those blind people that thought that you weren't independent enough if you didn't take public transportation and relied on fixed routes or carpooling. The one takeaway I got out of that was in some ways those that carpool to work (not because they're blind but because the coworker lives near them) actually had to be more organized than those that took the bus. The one thing I took away from this podcast was a) You don’t have to justify your reasoning for doing what you do; b) Blindness shouldn't be the excuse for doing something. If you take paratransit because you’re blind when good bus service is available, then we should work on that. On the other hand, if you take paratransit because the area you live in (affordability causes you to live with your parents as you are paying off those student loans) doesn't have the greatest public transit, this may be a different story. If it's safer to take door-to-door services at night because downtown in your city isn't conducive for safe travel by a pedestrian, I totally understand that.

I’ve told people here in Canada that I want to attend either the Colorado Center for the Blind or the Louisiana Center for the Blind because I want to improve on what I know, but also to build that level of confidence I believe I can have. I also want to attend an NFB Convention one day in person. As you said, it's the place where blindness is accepted, and you can just be you.

I also read the two articles you noted and still feel the same way about blindness as mentioned above. [The articles were “NFB Philosophy: What It Is and What It Is Not” published in the Braille Monitor in April of 2018, and “The Nature of Independence,” a speech by Dr. Kenneth Jernigan given at the 1993 National Convention.] I do agree with learning Braille and trying to use the remaining vision you have and struggling that trying to learn Braille will possibly help with your reading speed. I know blind people who only learn Braille for basic things like continuing to play cards with friends, label items in their kitchen so they can get their coffee—that's okay too. As I always tell people, my philosophy is I never want blindness to be a reason why I don't do something. I want to be pushed to learn things that I may not know how to do, but I am also aware that certain things I may not want to do just like all sighted people do not like to do the same things. I always tell people that the only thing I can't do is drive a car, but I've never found a way to be a blind treasurer for an organization or sell 50-50 or door prize tickets for an event and be able to read out the winners without having a sighted person to assist. [We should note that techniques exist for blind folks to do all of these things, and perhaps we should devote an article to them that is written by those who are blind treasurers and actively in charge of all elements in the drawing of raffle tickets.] Usually this role is given to a sighted volunteer for that very reason. I've never been able to learn how to run sound/video to play in the background for presentations either for a sighted organization or blind.

Our blindness organization often will have shuttle services pick you up when attending one of their events, carry your luggage, and make sure you get to the location where they are holding it. And, when it's all said and done, they make sure that you get back to the airport. I liked how you mentioned that the biggest thing is letting you be in control of you and your decisions. I know the guide dog schools do that too, but it sure feels good when you make it to an event on your own without hassling others.

My wife and I went to Toronto for a hockey tournament, and I knew ahead of time that there was a transit service that took you to the subway. I asked ahead of time what subway I needed to take to get us close to the hotel, and we managed to get through the airport with plenty of time and made it to the tournament. As sighted people might have done if we were running late, we took a shuttle to the hotel. We had that option, so we tried it. Going home, we asked the hotel to book the shuttle, and he took us to the airport. With a huge hockey bag and a long weekend of playing back-to-back games, it felt nice to get to the airport and check in. I remember reading the article "The Nature of Independence" and it made so much sense; you’re a busy person who has an assistant, and it's easier to send the assistant ahead to scope out the hotel and pick you up from the airport then take you back so you can get home quickly. I also understand why you dictate your speech and have your assistant write it out while you're doing something else.

I wish that the NFB would consider expanding to having an international presence and having contact info for people who want to find out who is doing the same thing in their country. I don't know if the scholarships for attending the convention are for the United States or if it is open to international people too. I would love to come and be a sponge to see how blind people run an event. As I said, our events here have sighted guide and volunteers who literally come running if you start walking to the door. They even go so far as to offer an arm if you ask where the banquet room is or if they see the table with Ohio, they would not offer directions but would say, “Let me take you over there,” without ever trying to explain the directions in words.

As you mentioned, sometimes that service might work, but letting you have that control of what you want to do and how is important. You might want to go over to the bar because you mentioned to a friend that you were going to get them a drink. The volunteer doesn't know if you want to go to the table or the bar. How often I've sat in a chair and had people bring me a drink or something like that. I’m saddened by the way some programs have volunteers as in the case of tandem bike programs, and the volunteers will talk with each other and every now and again come over to the blind people and talk with us, but mostly they leave us alone.

I love your podcast with all the info you're putting into it. Sorry for the long message. Could you make a continuation of this? How does NFB feel about special privileges if you're blind? Here in Canada CNIB has ID cards that get you free transit for city buses, not for paratransit though, and I know I disagree with it. The argument is that blind people can't drive and therefore need to take the bus. As mentioned above, I feel that if one disability gets it, then all should or it isn't fair.

Keep up the great work, and I hope to meet the two of you someday.


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